Big call by Brian Cody but Kilkenny’s own odd couple proves a winning combination

We were treated to two fantastic games over the weekend and all involved — players, management, and officials — deserve our deepest gratitude. 
Big call by Brian Cody but Kilkenny’s own odd couple proves a winning combination

The players gave everything they had for the cause. The performances of these talented individuals were awe-inspiring and to think that these great players are amateurs. It must totally confuse people from abroad who are involved in professional sport. However, there was a downside also. Michael Fennelly, Adrian Tuohy, and Joe Canning were all playing well when they had their outings curtailed by injury — always a sad note. I hope sincerely that they recover quickly.

Down on pitchside last Saturday night, two things struck me about Kilkenny: The ability of the management to make the right selections for big game replays and the team’s superb physical condition for big games. In the replayed final of 2012, Walter Walsh was introduced and ended up as man of the match. In the 2014 replay, John Power was introduced and scored the game-breaking goal. Last Saturday night, newcomers Mark Bergin and Liam Blanchfield operated in the full-forward line, with Blanchfield giving a terrific display.

The positioning of TJ Reid and Richie Hogan at midfield seemed an odd combination. However, it worked well. The week before, Reid, arguably Kilkenny’s top cat, looked a little flat. On Saturday night, the freedom he had around midfield allowed him to express himself and the enthusiasm which he displayed in early springtime was clearly on view again. He swooped on breaking ball and ran with purpose at the Waterford defence. It was a brilliant move by the management and it provided the spark that rekindled Reid’s fire. I had feared his superb early-season form had deserted him, but I now expect him back to his exuberant best in the final.

Michael Dempsey is responsible for Kilkenny’s physical preparation. I mentioned last week that it is an area that receives little comment. Kilkenny are always full of running down the stretch, a testimony to their superb conditioning. Last Saturday night, they were full of energy as the clock wound down. Waterford had a lot of physical work done before the new year whereas Kilkenny were late back to ‘preseason training’ because of their team holiday. However, they were in peak physical condition for this replay.

The Cats know how to win. They pounce on the little errors of opponents while they play a percentage game.They draw opposing defenders into fouls and create openings with clever, simple play. When Waterford reflect on their loss, they will pinpoint the lack of clinical composure that a team can only learn with experience. In the 21st minute, Shane Bennett had put them into a three-point lead. It was a critical time in the game when Waterford needed to be composed and resolute and stretch the gap to keep the pressure on their celebrated opponents. However, they left Kilkenny back into the game too easily.

Austin Gleeson made a high catch from a free by Stephen O’Keeffe. He passed it off but an attempted ‘one-two’ in a congested area turned over possession and this led to a point by Liam Blanchfield. ‘Brick’ Walsh was available, having taken up a good supporting position.

Pauric Mahony then missed a free and the resultant puckout handed the Cats their next score.

Instead of attacking a high puckout and batting it back — the safer option — Philip Mahony went to catch the sliotar. It broke off him to Richie Hogan, who pointed. His marker Tadhg Dé Burca was 15m away when he needed to be tight. The next point resulted from a poor decision by Austin Gleeson to late-tackle Cillian Buckley. Three handy points for Kilkenny without working too hard. These are the little lessons that this talented Waterford team, with huge potential, must learn if they hope to advance to the top of the ladder.

You need a little luck to win games and Tipp will know that they were lucky. John McGrath won a ball from behind and transferred to John O’Dwyer. A moment of magic from Bubbles and a fine John McGrath effort later saw them through against a spirited Galway, who fought until the bitter end.

Galway scored two cracking goals and could have had two more. When they reflect on this game they will know that their failure to take those two opportunities cost them the game.

Padraic Maher made a tremendous hook on Galway’s Conor Cooney to save a certain goal. Cooney is an experienced goalscorer. All he needed was to take a step inside and bat into the net. Instead, he went for a full-blooded strike when it wasn’t necessary. This action gave Maher the tackling opportunity. Corner-forward Jason Flynn had a great chance just after half-time. He caught the ball at the edge of the Tipp square and had he held the ball a little longer and taken a step to gain his balance, a goal might have resulted instead of the point he scored.

When Galway went four points up in the second half, they didn’t force the pace. They committed handling errors and took wrong options. Galway were playing with a two-man inside forward line with Tipp full-back James Barry free. Barry swept up an amount of ball as Galway were careless with forward deliveries. The Tribesmen played well when they moved the ball from player to player with crisp passes and their defence was holding the highly-rated Tipp attack.

Tackling properly is an art. In the current game, any tug of the jersey or shorts is penalised, while high tackles with hand or hurley guarantee a yellow card. Like any skill, it takes practice to gain proficiency. The men in maroon gave away eight scoreable frees, some the result of poor tackling. When they did tackle properly, they dispossessed Tipp legitimately.

Would Galway have won if Adrian Tuohy and Joe Canning weren’t injured? Impossible to say, but one could speculate that both were worth, at least, a further point from play.

In school long ago, with the nuns and later the Christian Brothers, one of the requests at prayer time was for a happy death. For many Tipp people beating the old enemy on All-Ireland day will deliver on this request. Of course, Tipp will have to play a lot better if they hope to overcome their neighbours. In the ‘work required’ column, Tipp manager Michael Ryan will note that star corner-back Cathal Barrett was vulnerable under the high ball while keeper Darren Gleeson’s movement and positioning for the two goals was a little suspect. Tipp’s transfer of the ball forward from short puckouts also needs some extra practice, as Joseph Cooney’s smart anticipation proved.

Up front, Ryan knows he needs Bubbles on form for the final. Only the McGrath brothers, of the starting forward sextet, scored from play and overall there was a lack of coordination in their attack. On the other hand, Ryan will be pleased with the manner of their win. Semi-finals are about winning, with lots of room for improvement. Tipp achieved this last Sunday.

The gremlins were at play in the office on Sunday when my rating for Waterford’s corner-back Noel Connors, who had a fine game, was reduced from 7.5 to 5.5.

You need a little luck to win games and Tipp will know that they were lucky

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